The higher-order assembly of the approximately 30 nm chromatin fibers into the characteristic morphology of HeLa mitotic chromosomes was investigated by electron microscopy. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) of serial sections was applied to view the distribution of the DNA-histone-nonhistone fibers through the chromatid arms. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) provided a complementary technique allowing the surface arrangement of the fibers to be observed. The approach with both procedures was to swell the chromosomes slightly, without extracting proteins, so that the densely-packed chromatin fibers were separated. The degree of expansion of the chromosomes was controlled by adjusting the concentration of divalent cations (Mg2+). With TEM, individual fibers could be resolved by decreasing the Mg2+ concentration to 1.0–1.5 mM. The predominant mode of fiber organization was seen to be radial for both longitudinal and transverse sections. Using SEM, surface protuberances with an average diameter of 69 nm became visible after the Mg2+ concentration was reduced to 1.5 mM. The knobby surface appearance was a variable feature, because the average diameter decreased when the divalent cation concentration was further reduced. The surface projections appear to represent the peripheral tips of radial chromatin loops. These TEM and SEM observations support a "radial loop" model for the organization of the chromatin fibers in metaphase chromosomes.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This research was supported by grants from the Minnesota Medical Foundation and the National Institutes of Health (GM 26440).